Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wolf Night (Cassandra Bick Chronicles #2) by Tracey Sinclair

Things have sort of briefly stabilized for Cassandra.  Though she is sad that Cain has once again taken off, Laclos' investment in her business has allowed her to keep running Dark Dates and arranging parties for humans and vampires to meet.  Then Medea her assistant and Wiccan friend breaks some very exciting news - she's proposed to her girlfriend Kate and they are going to get married. Having no friends and her parents long dead, Kate and Medea have become defacto family.  Though Medea insists on wanting a small ceremony, Cassie decides that they must simply have a hen night, which leads to her inadvertently breaking a very important spell cast by Medea.  It's not long before Cassandra is fending off, werewolves and wiccans. If that were not bad enough, Cane returns to town the same day that Cassandra finally sleeps with Lacolos, the two thousand year old vampire.  Then, proving that bad things happens in threes, her ex boyfriend Sebastian shows up.

Though there was a lot going on in Wolf Night, it got off to a really slow start. This surprised me but by the middle of the book, it really took off.  It further didn't help that the ending was all tell and not show.  I thought having the bad guy explain his motivation and confess his misdeeds went out with Perry Mason.  It's not an artful approach and reads like and info dump because of an inability to wrap up loose ends.

The protagonist Cassandra, who is still terribly insecure became a major issue for me in terms of enjoying Wolf Night and I found myself reading for the ancillary characters, rather than her. Women essentially exist to be competition and remind Cassandra that she is not good enough and this even includes her best friend Medea.
 OK, so  it wasn’t just the vampires who could make me feel frumpy. If she wasn’t great at her job,  really very nice, pretty much my only friend and one of the people who helped me save a city  less than a year ago, I might’ve had to hate her.  Medea’s magical mojo aside, the rest of the humans were pure vanilla (pg3)

Tall  and  blonde,  she  looked  like  the  term  ‘ethereal’  had  been  coined  for  her:  think  Cate  Blanchett  in   Lord  of  the  Rings,  without  the  pointy  ears.  Her  outfit  was  very  Wicca-chic  – a  long,  loose  skirt  that  flowed  around  her  slender frame, and a floaty, scoop necked top revealing clavicles you could slice your hands  on. Was it my fate to be surrounded by  women  who made me feel like a dishevelled hag?  Maybe all Wiccans used the same spell.  Clearly she was used to the effect she had on people, because she didn’t look remotely  discombobulated  by  the  fact  it  took  me  a  good  couple  of  minutes  to  stop  staring  and  pull  myself together enough to speak. (pg 34)
The second quote is in reference to a former lover of Madea's.  As you might imagine, this gets tiresome quickly.  There has to be something in between the protagonist who is drop dead gorgeous, and doesn't even try and the one (in this case Cassandra) who has such low self esteem that she is in the shadow of every single woman she meets.  In this case, this sort of self loathing is particularly unrealistic, as Cassandra is actively being pursued by an angel and a two thousand year old vampire.  I can only hope that by the time the third book in this series comes out that Cassandra will leave this annoying tendency behind.

The one thing Cassandra is certain about is what she will and will not accept in a relationship.  The infamous handbag makes it appearance when Laclos decides to bite Cassandra without her permission.  She makes it absolutely clear that he is never ever to bite her without asking.  Laclos believed that because she had said yes once that it gave him tacit permission to feed from her at will.  He pulled out the typical vampire line of being able to sense her arousal but Cassandra was absolutely adamant that consent is something that needs to be sought each and every time.  I think that this is an extremely important message because enthusiastic consent is something that is so necessary to push because of the pervasiveness of rape culture.

One of the things I love about this series is its great diversity.  There are a few characters of color and several bisexual and lesbian characters.  I absolutely adore the loving relationship between Medea and Kate and it it is worth noting that their relationship this is the only committed, significant relationship in the series to date. My one issue is that while Medea explains that homophobia is something they have had to deal with, people seem to be more upset that she is Wiccan and Kate is a shifter.  This displaces the problems that Medea and Kate would have had to face as an interracial lesbian couple.  No fake oppression should every override the lived oppression which historically marginalized people have to negotiate.

Though Cassandra clearly has a lot of respect for Kate and Medea, the idea that she herself might be perceived of as gay bothers her.
And would it be… you that she is marrying?”  I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted that she assumed I was gay, or flattered she thought I  could bag a woman as hot as Medea.  “No, no. Not me. We just work together. I’m organising…. Planning a surprise.”  “Well, that’s very nice of you,” she said. (pg 36)
If  Cassandra really had left her heterosexual privilege behind, being thought of as gay would not have been conceived of as an insult.  It can only be insulting, if someone thinks that there is something wrong with being gay.  It further did not help that she continually corrected herself and said Medea and Kate were getting "civil partnered."  While civil partnership is allowed in the U.K. and not marriage, it is clear that Medea sees her impending nuptials as marriage and it is therefore problematic that Cassandra would refer to it differently. It's a way of inferring agreement of  the limitations enforced by the law and implies that Cassandra views their relationship as secondary to her heterosexual entanglements.

Throughout Wolf Night, at several points, Medea is referred to as "Paki" which is of course a slur.  What stood out to me is that each time a slur was used against her, it was made clear that it was not only wrong but blatantly racist. 
Rory sighed, disappointment thick in his voice.  “Honestly, brother, you’d fight us – all of us – over some dyke and her Paki bitch and a  bunch of useless neds and coffin dodgers?”  Ah,  always  nice  when  your  bad  guys  prove  they  are  sexist  racists,  too,  so  you  can  justifiably hate them for a whole bunch of reasons. I felt myself ready to bluster in outrage  but Cain’s expression was calm. (pg 171)
 To me, this is exactly how an oppression should be portrayed, if an author plans to include it.  It's unrealistic to have a character of colour never face racism, so to see it portrayed and then attacked, was absolutely refreshing.

Wolf Night didn't have nearly as many pop culture references as Dark Dates, but that doesn't mean it didn't have moments of great humour.  I loved that Cassandra was upset about the fact that Cain's idea of showing that he cared was buying her a new gun.  When he expressed confusion about this she quipped, "Honestly, Cain, how can you have been alive so long and not understand women?" (pg.106) There was a lot of relationship angst because of the love triangle, but rather than being grating, this is where Sinclair chose to insert comedy.  Anyone who has ever been in a long term relationship will recognize the realism of these conversations, relate to them and laugh out loud.

I really do like this series despite the social justice fails.  I love the inclusiveness of Sinclair's work, even though the representation at times is far from perfect. It's not often that you see such a cast in speculative fiction.  I love that Sinclair sought to attack many of the tropes that appear in speculative fiction which works to mask abusive relationships. Some she challenged with humour and others an absolute declaration of the problematic nature of giving a pass to violence against women.  Even though message is extremely important, it never felt like Sinclair was working an agenda or getting preachy - it was a simple declaration of fact. The only shortcoming with Wolf Night is as aforementioned Cassandra.  I can only hope that as Sinclair continues this series, we will see Cassandra begin to change as a reflection of her experiences, failing that, for the humour and inclusiveness, this book is worth reading.